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These Photos Were Shot Handheld Out a B-24 Bomb Bay in WWII

During World War II, the US Air Force used massive cameras to capture aerial photographs for the purposes of mapping and reconnaissance. The resulting photographs provide a fascinating look into what the war looked like for those who fought it from above.

This viral photo of an airman holding a massive 75-pound Fairchild K-17 camera has been making the rounds on the Internet in recent times:

An airman holding a Fairchild K-17.

After seeing this photo online, Allen Hentscher shared how his grandfather had used a similar camera to shoot photos from an open B-24 bomber in the Pacific.

“My grandpa was a waist gunner and photographer in a B-24 in the Pacific during WW2,” Hentscher writes. “He said they would stand in the open bomb bay and hold the camera while taking pics and hand winding it to take another photo.”

Allen’s grandfather, Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher of the 321st Bombs Away Squadron in the 90th Bomb Group, passed several of his huge prints down to Allen.

Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher receiving a medal.
A photo by Hentscher of a B-24.

The longest prints measure roughly 9×18-inches, so it seems those ones may have been captured with the Fairchild K-18, as the Fairchild K-17 shot 9×9-inch square format photos.

“My dad and grandpa said it was a self-winding camera almost as big as grandpa and he would have to brace himself and the camera in the open bomb bay to get some of these photos,” Allen says. “I was also led to believe there was an auto-wind mechanism/attachment that could be used with the camera but for whatever reason they didn’t like to hand those out so grandpa only used that once and got in trouble because he didn’t have permission to use it.

“They found out because he had a lot more pics of the bombing area than a self winder would be able to get.”

A print showing bombs dropping on a seaplane base near Wewak, New Guinea (according to the handwritten caption on the back).
A digital scan of the photo.

“If you look closely at some [of the photos], you will see the Japanese airplanes tucked into the trees to try and hide them,” Allen tells PetaPixel.

“Bombs On Target, Dagua Airstrip”
A crop of a photo showing Japanese tucked between trees.

“The photos are still in the original metal container he shipped them to my grandma [in] during the war with all the censor approval stickers on it,” Allen says.

Allen had a local company digitize the prints in high quality for the sake of preservation.

Here are some more photos captured by Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher:

After flying 240 combat hours as photographer and waist gunner in 35 missions, Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher’s plane was shot down on July 31st, 1944. Daniel was one of three survivors from the crew of ten, and he was awarded the Purple Heart — you can read his account of the terrifying experience here.

Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher passed away in 1983.


Image credits: Photographs by Staff Sargeant Daniel F. Hentscher and courtesy Allen Hentscher

This Camera Was Used for Aerial Photos During WWII

Check out this absolute unit of a camera that was used to do aerial photography during World War II. Mounted on the front of the camera is a massive 2-foot long 305mm f/5 lens.

This viral photo has made the rounds on the Web in recent years, and the camera has widely been misidentified as a Kodak K-24.

It’s actually a Fairchild K-17, which was designed by Fairchild Camera and Instrument and manufactured under license for the US Air Force by Folmer Graflex in Rochester, New York (Kodak’s hometown), in the early 1940s.

The Fairchild K-17 shot 9×9-inch (22.86×22.86cm) photos on 9 1/2-inch wide roll film.

6-inch, 12-inch, and 24-inch lenses were available for the camera, with apertures of f/6.3, f/5, and f/6, respectively.

Shooting this camera handheld was not an easy task:

While these cameras were normally clamped into mounts, a pair of handles and a viewfinder could be fitted to K-17s and K-18s for hand-held operation. What “hand-held” meant is subject to interpretation, as these cameras were not lightweights. With a 200 foot roll of film, the A-5 film magazine used with the K-17 weighed 30 pounds. A complete K-17 with 12″ lens cone and a full magazine weighed about 55 pounds. With a 24″ lens instead of the 12″, the weight climbed to near 75 pounds. [Source]

So that camera you see being held by the airman above weighs a whopping 75 pounds — no wonder he looks like he’s straining to pose with the “handheld” camera. Thankfully, cameras these days (especially aerial photography ones) are generally much smaller and lighter.